POETRY AS WAYFARING
"Poetry is a practice
of wakeful animism."
Darion Kuma Gracen
When I first encountered poetry in my early school-age years it wasn't a subject that interested me much. I thought of poetry merely as something I had to memorize to get a good grade. In other words, poetry hadn't been brought alive for me yet.
That would all change in my teen years, 35 years ago now, when I stumbled upon the poems, prose-poems (haibun), and travel writings of Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), an innovator of the poetic form known as 'hokku' (called 'haiku' today). I immediately felt a deep kinship with Bashō's spirit. His descriptions of wandering, his love of history and bonding with places, and his contemplative Nature observation all served to demonstrate a very different kind of poetry.
It would be one particular phrase of his that really set me on my journey, however:
"Seek not the paths of the ancients;
seek that which the ancients sought."
In the mid-'90s, I encountered my root teacher in "seeking that which the ancients sought" -- a woman named Darion Kuma Gracen, a soul-guide and teacher, who embodied a mountains-and-forests, Nature-focused form of practice. She too felt a deep bond with Bashō, along with other poets whom she would introduce me to over the years such as the Hermit of Xiangshan (Bai Juyi), Wang Wei, Ryōkan the Hermit, Grandmother Lotus Moon (Otagaki Rengetsu), Sister Kago no Chiyo (Chiyo-ni), and Santōka the Wanderer.
For these poets, and a long line of other artist-meditators going all the way back to ancient China, the journey of poetry wasn't only about "literature." Their poems are a visible manifestation of something that preceded the writing --- a contemplative way of life, one path of many for 'realizing the Way' (道).
photo credit: Merryl Erin Rothaus
Darion Kuma Gracen
My auspicious path-crossing with Kuma-sensei began a decade-long conversation and unique training-exploration of the writings and spiritual practices of a down-to-earth "lineage-stream" of tea-and-saké-sipping poets. These contemplative arts practitioners wandered forests and took to the mountains to ponder the mysteries of kami and Nature, heart-mind, the impermanence of life, and the Dao (The Way). Intensive meditation practice, hillwalking, and the arts was their way-within-the-Way, and it became ours -- a confluence where the tributaries of creativity, inner work, and spirituality merged.
Kuma called our practice-path by a specific term: "Wayfaring." Unlike a pilgrimage where there are set and known locations, Wayfaring is, in many respects, a journey of no-arrival. It is an ever-deepening process of self-cultivation, inner transformation, communion with Nature, and creative expression that continues to dwell at the heart of my life today.
"Follow the Creative. Return to the Creative."